Saturday, 23 January 2016

Another nautical tale…
Many years ago I was filming a documentary on Air Sea Rescue operations at a Base in Scotland. The programme was eventually shown on ITV. We did mock runs with the helicopters and fast rescue boats atc, and everything was going along quite well until a Royal Navy Officer suggested I should do the bird’s eye view of a rescue operation.
In this case he specifically meant the view a downed pilot would have as his rescuers, in the form of a helicopter and crew, would swoop across the ocean and pluck him from the jaws of certain death. After he had been forced to ditch into the sea.
A good idea, very visual..
The Navy at that time were very pleased about a new pilot survival suit they had with a newly developed rescue beacon that was much more powerful and detectable than anything they had previously.
It gets better. The chances of a rescue for a downed pilot wearing this suit were almost 100%
Reassured, off I trot like the sacrificial lamb to get kitted out in one of these survival suits and some basic survival techniques where it was explained to me that the master plan would be to drop me off in the Atlantic Ocean somewhere off the coast of  North Scotland.
The rescue services would then be alerted that there was a pilot down and be given a rough search area. With approximate absolute doddle…they said..
So far so good..
What a fool..
So…Kitted out with a natty flying suit and a waterproof camera I am whisked away to a remote spot on the globe and dumped into the ocean…The helicopter hovered for a few minutes to make sure I was ok  and then off they went back to their warm officers mess for tea and biscuits no doubt..
Meanwhile I am now bobbing about ..quite comfy and absolutely safe in the knowledge that in a few minutes ..maybe thirty at the outside, I would be located and saved..with some good footage of the operation…back in time for the bar opening..
The sea began to get a little choppy.
The survival suit was beginning to chafe a little as I was tossed about on the surface.
After a couple of hours I was violently seasick.
After four hours I began to get a little concerned.
My rescuers were nowhere to be seen.
But wait..That is a Nimrod aircraft at zero level about five mles away..It seemed to be doing criss cross patterns across the sea. Occasionally as I rose to the top of a swell I could also spot a couple of helicopters in the same area.
Now I was cold, had nothing left to vomit and hey…the sun was about to set..
The massive golden ball was hanging just above the horizon and glinting across the water .
This is it I thought. How many hours did that instructor say the survival time was. How many hours had passed and how many were left.
Some business men on a flight from Northern Ireland were crossing over to Scotland for a meeting. They were in a hurry and their chopper was flying low. They went straight over the top of me, continued for a couple of miles and then banked around for a closer look.
The chopper circled, the pilot waved and then they went on their way.
Within a few minutes my rescuers arrived. The winchman dropped in and looped me up.I got great footage and they were very embarrassed.
It turned out that the superdooper rescue beacon had “Malfunctioned” and they thought I was on my way to Nova Scotia or somewhere equally exciting.
The Navy were almost about to announce that they had just killed a film cameraman.
But they didn’t
Moral of the story…There isn’t one really..these things just happen but don’t take the experts word as gospel every time  and carry a back up beacon..or get a job as an accountant..

Tuesday, 19 January 2016


I have just written a piece about sunken treasure in the waters off that island paradise called the Seychelles.
Then a couple of days ago, on the news, there is a report of man who was snorkeling just twenty meters from the beach being taken by a shark, and there is another report of a French tourist being taken just two weeks prior to this latest incident.
A belated word of warning , if you go looking for that treasure…BEWARE OF THE SHARKS.
I spent a lot of time swimming offshore in the Seychelles and often got a scare when a clump of seaweed on the ocean floor some twenty /thirty feet down, would seem to move. It does put one off a little.
All of the diving instructors that I worked with assured me that the sharks were not a problem, one or two hammerheads, well out at sea, but nothing in the bays.
I do not for a moment think they were lying but maybe they should have a re-think and install some nets on the popular beaches. It would be a great shame but it keeps the tourist trade happy. No one wants to go on holiday and finish up as shark shit.
No one can blame the sharks. It is their environment and they are hungry, humans are just a snack to them.
Humans do not move too well in the water, no matter how graceful we think our freestyle crawl is. The hungry shark sees a slow moving target with few signs of danger, in it goes.
I often think sharks have no taste buds because most of their human targets must taste of polystyrene or latex rubber, but it must be worth it , humans do not put up much of a struggle after the first hit and then its easy to consume.
I must admit that I am a pool person after seeing “Jaws”. The only way I want to go underwater these days is in a submarine, preferably a nuclear one.
The most vivid example I have seen of the capacity of sharks to consume huge chunks of matter was on Norfolk Island. Another island paradise, this one in the Pacific , but a paradise for entirely different reasons.
Not many beach umbrellas and sandy floored bars there, mainly because there is only a tiny beach and the shark population residing just offshore puts off any swimming adventures. Not that we knew that when my crew went for a swim when we filmed there.
I won’t do a tourist brochure thing here, you can Google the place, but it is a small rocky Island about 1000 miles out in the ocean from mainland OZ, the most direct route is from Sydney.
It was at one time a notorious penal colony, anyone of the bad lads sentenced to go there never left, that was it.
At a certain time of the day, when the sun is very low the outline of a circular prison compound is revealed. The prisoners were kept in underground cages that formed a huge circle. Nice place
Today the Island attracts what would at one time been considered a Hippy crowd, easy come, easy go, and they have developed their own tourist industry. Well worth a visit.
When I was there we filmed the islands refuse department, yes they do have one, with a very smart truck. They collect the garbage from all of the little settlements in the hills and take it to the refuse tip. In this case, the Pacific Ocean
Yep, they actually tip all of the assorted rubbish into the sea. The tipping place is high on a cliff , about thirty metres above the water, the truck tips up and all of the white, council provided, rubbish sacks drop into the sea, slowly fill with water and then begin to sink.
I was naturally outraged at this appalling pollution of one of the worlds most beautiful areas, and voiced my opinion.
The Foreman Refuse Collector calmed my fears…’Just watch this mate” he said ”this stuff never reaches the ocean floor”
He was right.. As the sacks descended through the clear water, large dark shapes approached at lightning speed and ate them, yep, these critters would take a full sack of rubbish, tins, bottles, garbage, all in one bite…There were hundreds of them.
The Norfolk Island Refuse Disposal Unit, Marine Dept. (TNIRDUMD). Trash snacks a speciality.
That would look good on a T shirt.
Want some advice…never go swimming where you are considered to be the main course for a BIG fishes dinner.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Riots I have known

Riots I have Known

This is an old post but still pertinent today.b

Along with most of the world I have been watching the riots that took place in London last weekend and on until Wednesday.
Quite apart from being appalled by what appeared to be inept Police action which allowed severe looting, arson and murder to take place, the images made me cast my mind back over civil disturbances I have been involved in and how the various Police forces handled them.
Probably the first riot I was involved in, purely from a spectator viewpoint, was in Paris in 1968.
At least I was a spectator at the outset but when the Gendarmes and riot police appeared and seemed determined to hit everyone in sight I too fled along with thousands of students..
I was in Paris to film a medical documentary, finished up staying in a Chateau outside of the city with some of the riot leaders.
The Police seemed to be very effective and no-one showed them their bare buttocks as I witnessed on a newsreel last week from London, they might have received a hot round just where they didn’t want one.
The UK Miners strike, which paralyzed the country for months, had some hairy moments too, it is difficult to get out of the way of a rampaging crowd when you have a massive camera slung over one shoulder, however I did manage it.
You seem to develop a sense of where not to stand.
A Polo match in India turned really sour when one of the competitors knocked the puck into the crowd causing some injury to a little boy..
From being a supporting cheering group of several thousand fans they turned within seconds into a bloodthirsty mob and were coming towards me.
I was actually filming the match and was just to one side of the VIP stand. The stand seemed to be the main target for the mob and they were coming fast.
Then the Police just seemed to appear from nowhere, hundreds of them, all armed with weighted bamboo canes. Very effective weapon against a crowd.
After a moment or two of nervous stand off the commander ordered his men to charge. They didn’t move, but the mob did…back to their seats in the stand..The game re-commenced.
Another incident in India was at the fish harbour in Mumbai. I was filming the processing of mountains of freshly caught prawns. The work was mainly carried out by very elegantly clad ladies in colourful saris, and it was this contrast that I wanted to capture on film, except the ladies took exception to me getting too close to them and started to pelt me with prawns, then stones, then knives and anything they could lay their hands on..
Sometimes I think I could have made it into an Olympic sprint team, this was one of those occasions. You realise that you are not going to win a verbal debate with the mob and that you might get seriously damaged, so like all heroes, I ran.
There is a suggestion from the Prime Minister of the UK that a policeman from the USA should pop over and give us the benefit of his experiences in dealing with gangs in LA and NY.
We certainly need some advice and this man seems to have some of the good stuff.
I was on a patrol with two female Police officers in a tough part of LA when we passed a crowd of youths on a street corner, as we drove by we got some verbal abuse and lots of finger signals. The patrol car circled the block and we went back for a visit.
I am five feet eight inches tall and both of the policewomen were shorter than me. The shortest fella in the gang was about six three.
I had barely gotten my camera out of the car when there were three of the gang, handcuffed, on the floor, another one was on his way down and the rest were heading for Olympic glory.
It took seconds. No consideration of Health and Safety there.
Another patrol took me to an apartment block in NY where a domestic violence was taking place, the man involved was reported to be armed with a shotgun.
Being high on adrenalin and naturally stupid, I raced up the stairs with the two patrolmen to the apartment and filmed them banging on the door, they both stood to one side and I stood in the middle..
Stupid eh, this guy had a shotgun, the first thing he would see if he opened the door was a man pointing what could be mistaken for a weapon at him.
The door burst open and there he was, the arch villain, a little Italian man, in his shorts and vest, holding the gun, pointing down. It must have taken two seconds for two of NY’s finest to have him on the floor, disarmed and cuffed.
Which in a rather disjointed way brings me back to the riots in London and what should one do if you get caught up in it..
My motto is..If you see an angry, looting crowd, move off in the opposite direction as fast as you can…

Monday, 11 January 2016

Lorenzo,s Oil Documentary

Here is a short amusing story from Virginia USA..
Some time ago there was a movie released called “Lorenzo’s Oil”. The movie starred Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon and was based on a true story about their severely handicapped child and their struggle to help him survive. The film was made after I had shot a documentary on the family some time earlier and it was aired on TV in the States.
The family were truly remarkable people and they had a house up in the Virginian Mountains, the location, which is secret , was in a winter sports area.
We made the film at the height of the skiing season, very deep snow, five or six feet of it, and it kept on coming down in almost white out conditions.
One small anecdote from the mother. Their house was on the side of a mountain and on the rear terrace they had a spa pool, they tended to use this all year round and it was constantly on a simmer mode in the winter, very pleasant ..and that’s what the local wildlife thought too.
One evening the family, mum and dad, went out onto the terrace for a bit of a soak and found two old brown bears sitting in the tub, as if they owned the joint..It took about half an hour of yelling  and banging metal pans etc to persuade Mr and Mrs Bruin to push off, which they did very reluctantly.
Apparently the tub was out of action for a long time due to the grease and dirt  that had  entered the filters..
However we finished that part of the doco  and the time came to drive down to Richmond for the filming of another section.
The soundman and the Director were chain smokers and we opted for them to travel in their own vehicle, a large van, along with the equipment and baggage….the rest of us, myself, my assistant and the Producer would travel in a normal saloon car.We had a walkie talkie in each vehicle for on the road communication…good planning ..
Where did it all go wrong
When we flew into the States we knew we would be going into the mountains and attempted to hire some FWD vehicles…no chance, every one of them was rented out. So we opted for a normal vehicle.
Perhaps that was the moment..
On our way down the mountain we ran into another small snow storm and as we rounded a bend the car just kept on travelling in a straight line…straight towards a flimsy fence and what looked like a massive drop..
This was it, the driver had no control whatsoever and we were about to smash through the barrier when we were saved.
We ran full tilt into a large truck coming up the hill.
There is a sequence of events when two vehicles collide. .The small screams from the passengers as they see their lives flashing before them and then there is the awesome sound of metal tearing…this is followed by  a strange silence..
And so it was with us.
No-one sustained bad injuries, just a bruise or two. We pushed and kicked the doors open and stepped out into the snowstorm. It was possible to hear the flakes of snow hit the ground…that’s how silent it was up in that mountain forest.
The drop at the side of the road was several hundred feet into a ravine.The four of us stood in some form of shock at the fate  we had cheated and all gave a silent little prayer of thanks for our saviours.
And then the door on the truck slid open and six of the biggest mountain men I had ever seen slowly began to climb out. They were very quiet and very peed off., you could tell that by the way they just glared and flexed their fingers.
I had the sudden and bright idea to call our other vehicle and get them to drive back up the road to offer some form of assistance. They had gone ahead and had also switched off the radio, so that they would not be bothered on the journey.. Clever eh.
The mountain men were still silent and still glaring. The two groups stood facing each other, then one of them spoke.
“You fucked our truck”
That’s when I knew we could be in some form of trouble.
Let me describe these fine mountain fellas. Did you ever see the group Z Z Top?
The three foot long beards, the pulled down droopy felt hats and the overcoats that trailed on the ground.
Thats what they looked like and these boys were not going to start singing, you could sense they wanted blood, an Englishman’s blood, particularly mine. .at least that’s what it felt like to me.
Suddenly they started to shuffle towards us and in spite of the rather high pitched and plummy apology from our lady producer they kept on coming.
At that moment another miracle occurred. in the shape of a State Trooper.
Out of the constant dumping of snow a police car emerged, A very tall man , made taller by his wide brimmed hat climbed out..The mountain men stopped and the trooper took charge of the situation, he restored order to chaos, helped us clear the road by pushing both the vehicles to one side and then arrested us.
We were vagrants, technically. Our bags were in the front car which was now many miles away, our passports and ID papers were in a bag in the back of that car. We had no means of identification. Bingo…  Arrested.
The trooper piled us into his station waggon along with a mountain man and took us off to his local lock up. .about twenty miles away. And he put us in a cell.
Yep…behind bars, just like in a western movie.
The mountain man tried to curry favour with the cop, “You remember me trooper” he said “I fixed the shingles on your roof last year”
The trooper, who was sitting at his desk never even looked up at our fellow prisoner, he just said “Yep, you charged me for it and the darn roof still leaks”
I think that brought the plea bargaining to an end.
As it was a Sunday  it took some time for  the trooper to find a judge to come and say wise words or sentence us to the electric chair, whatever they do in Virginia but eventually one turned up, still wearing his pyjamas under his top coat, he arraigned us and then fined us, except we had no money or credit cards, yes, they were all in the other car.
As it was a Sunday in the UK also we could not raise an executive at the TV station to vouch for us  either..The judge eventually relented and let us go having extracted an I.O.U from the producer to cover our fines when she could eventually be reunited with her credit card, which by now would be in Richmond.
Before we left we had some fun,we had our pics taken wearing  handcuffs, locked in the cell  and  with the trooper pointing his gun at us, but now we were free to go.
Except we had no money and Richmond was about 120 miles away.
The trooper eventually got us a ride with a big black guy who turned up in a battered old station waggon  and asked for 200 bucks for the journey..We had no option  we took it, payment on delivery.
 The snow was still coming down and it seemed we drove down that freeway sideways, first this side and then the other side.. It was a 120 mile skid. .But we made it..
 What happened when we caught up with the rest of our team is another story..